Hugh Grant will be eighty, doing "King Lear" for the RSC, and someone will still comment on his "divine" performance. But for the moment, he is promoting his new film, "Extreme Measures", a cracking good mystery thriller. That doesn't mean that Grant isn't a crack-up-laughing interview. In fact, we laughed so much that I * starred it so you know he is just joking. Most of the American audience will see this as a departure from the comedies that Grant has become so well known for, but in fact his reputation on the Continent is built on roles such as "Night Train to Venice", "Impromptu", and Polanski's "Bitter Moon", in addition to the Merchant and Ivory "Remains of the Day" and "Maurice" .
Film Scouts: What sold you on doing "Extreme Measures"? Had you read the book?
Hugh Grant: I hadn't read the book and to be absolutely honest I still haven't read the book because the script once we had found it was already a long way from the book. Elizabeth (Hurley, Grant's girlfriend and producer) found the script and showed it to me. It was the kind of film I really admire, that is it's thrilling and entertaining and edge of your seat and all that. A good night out, but at the same time it's not brain dead. There is a moral ambiguity to it that I found particularly appealing. As a by-product it was nice to have something that could edge me out of that comedy corner that I've found myself backed into at least in America.
FS: Was the character British in the book? Or did they try to make you American?
HG: It was written as an American as most of the scripts that come to me are, but I never do that. I do the switch act. I personally made it British and warmed it up a bit.
FS: You received the Golden Globe and British Academy Award for "Four Weddings and a Funeral" but would you prefer to be known for more serious work?
HG: That's a tough question. The thing I'm really queenie about is whether or not the script is any good. To be honest with you I don't really care if it's comedy, serious or a musical. Well, I would care if it was a musical. You'd care.* On the whole I like it when there are a few jokes around. Even in a serious thing it helps, that's why I wrote in a few jokes, particularly in the first half of this film.
FS: Where does the name of your production company Simian Films come from?
HG: It was just a little in joke between me and Elizabeth because she has this psychotic obsession with apes and she thinks I look like a monkey which I don't see.* It's humiliating really. It was a little in joke and has become a public humiliation.
FS: Were you at all intimidated having Elizabeth Hurley as your producer and your boss? To work under her?
HG: I live under her.* No particular difference expect she got paid for it this time. It works well.
FS: What did you learn from director Michael Apted?
HG: He's the master of practicality. They say film making is ninety-eight percent organization and two percent inspiration and he got that two percent but he certainly got that ninety-eight percent. If you aren't really organized you don't have a chance to be creative on the day on the set. He's terrifyingly organized particularly about punctuality. He'd go nuts if you were two minutes late on the set. Even to me and I hired him which is ridiculous!*
FS: When you made "Four Wedding and a Funeral" did you have any idea it would be an international success?
HG: No, up until then I had made international failures.* I was convinced it would be another in my long line. I always thought the script was good but we had so little time and money that we screwed it up good and proper. I was very surprised when it hit. Startled.
FS: How did it feel to have more control over the process of the movie making with "Extreme Measures"?
HG: We obsessed on it. We became a pair of nutters. We developed the script for a year and then produced it for a year, so we thought about nothing else. Start to go a bit mad. It is quite intense but we loved it. Especially after years and years of just acting where you've been sitting there thinking, "just put the camera there." To be allowed to say those things was very liberating.
FS: How hard is it to go back into the movies just as an actor?
HG: It will be hard. Just the other day I came close to committing to another Hollywood project which would be just me as an actor and I think that's why one of the reasons I weaseled out of it at the last moment. I think you get a taste for power and there's no turning back, like Mussolini.*
FS: Does this film making experience give you more sympathy for the directors and producers?
HG: I do, actually and I have a much clearer sense of the importance of performance which is the only thing I used to do. I realize now that the whole thing doesn't revolved around actors.* Editing was fascinating. For instance, when I do my next film, if I do five takes I'll do it five different ways rather than trying to get one perfect or one version. You need options in the editing room. Stuff like that.
FS: What about Gene Hackman? Where you surprised that he accepted a part that was rather small?
HG: We were jubilant when he took the part. We were sitting around saying, "If we could get Gene Hackman for this role, that would be ideal but we won't get him so..." And then he took the bait and that was a champagne day. But from then on I was gibbering at the prospect of having to play against this guy. He is an enormous film star in my book and he always looks like he is furious.* I was terrified that his trailer would be unclean or something not to his satisfaction. As it turned out, he couldn't be less like that. He is very much an actor's actor and all he wants is to do the job. Sits around and has lunch with the crew. He's very unstarry. But first scene with him my words came out backward like I was talking in tongues or something.
FS: What was it like working with Roman Polanski on "Bitter Moon"?
HG: Well, you know he's a nutter. A genius but bonkers. Coming from a cozy English tradition, and going to Paris. He doesn't work in the morning at all. (Impersonates Polanski) "I hate the morning." So you come in at lunch time and go into make up. Instead of someone saying, "Do you want a cup of tea and a donut?", they say, " Would you like a line of cocaine?" And then his wife will be there in make-up, usually topless, (another imitation) "So you like these?" Yeah their great.* Very bohemian. "Bitter Moon" had trouble finding a distributor until after "Four Weddings" but I like it. And there are other psychotics who like it.
FS: Are there more plans for Simian Films?
HG: We have several in the works and there is one in particular that I like. It is me against the Mafia if you can imagine anything as absurd as that.*
FS: What about other genres? Hugh Grant as an action star? We saw you on the motorcycle.
HG: Very butch. I got very into the action stuff and suggested that I wear an eye patch and a tank top.* But they said it didn't go well with the white coat. No, I don't think that will wash.